Wolves were first hunted some 10,000 years ago, and the fact that people are still weighing the merits of this practice demonstrates if nothing else humans' fascination with argument. The first known wolf bounty was offered in the sixth century B.C., and between then and the early 1900s, when the U.S. government accelerated its effort to eradicate the troublesome canines with strychnine, the animals have grown in lore and legend to be both sinner and saint, depending on viewpoint, flip a coin.
So it is no surprise that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, its finger ever to the wind, will meet for another six months with 20 diverse opinion holders to develop a new management plan for the state's 2,800-odd wolves, including hunting or no hunting. Tacked onto the year and a half since the group was first formed, that'll be two years of yakking, and counting.
Minnesota wolves, meanwhile, keep on keeping on. Their range has expanded, their packs have grown to record numbers, and their population remains stabilized at multiples of the recovery goal established by the federal government when the animals were first protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973. At the time, 750 wolves roamed Minnesota, up from about 400 in the 1950s, all mostly in the far northeast.
Those who are unfamiliar with wolves or who lie awake at night worrying about their presence on the state's landscape should know that, hunting or no hunting, barring the renewed use of poisons, which isn't ever going to happen, these four-legged wonders will be here as long as we will, maybe longer. A third of the state's wolves could be killed in a year — a quota that never will be approved — and its population, year to year, would hardly suffer a dent. If you doubt that, bone up on wolf science and particularly wolf reproduction.
Of course, science is the first thing tossed out the window nowadays, except when its reference is politically expedient. Gov. Tim Walz, for instance, wants everyone to be vaccinated against COVID-19, citing science for justification, and justifiably so. Yet the science of wildlife management and the role hunting plays in it seems lost on Walz, given that he thinks shooting pheasants is fine, as if the birds themselves are OK with it, but he's against the hunting of wolves. Go figure.
Meanwhile, his lieutenant governor — Peggy Flanagan, a White Earth Ojibwe Wolf Clan member — ratchets up the not-good-for-me-therefore-not-good-for-thee ante further still, saying the Ojibwe "has rules. You can't eat or hunt your own clan."
All of which is fine and dandy as far as personal opinions go, but it's a weird way to run a railroad, as it were, meaning a state, because anyone who has ever picked up a rod, reel or sporting arm has an opinion about how critters should be managed, how their bounty should be divvied up, and, in the end, what's right and what's wrong.
Ticking off a few of my personal complaints: Why are lead sinkers still allowed for fishing in Minnesota? (Answer: The governor and the Legislature are too weak to confront industry.) Why are lead shot shells still legal for hunting on state wildlife management areas? (Ditto.) And just who decided it's OK for corn and soybean producers to wash toxic cocktails of farmland chemicals and eroded topsoil into state rivers and lakes? (Ditto².)
Were I king, I would resolve these natural resource conflicts in my favor. But I'm not king. Neither, for that matter, is Walz or Flanagan, both of whom should exercise honorably their public-servant duties and lift the yoke of wasted time from the shoulders of the DNR wolf advisory committee by stating publicly they will abide by the committee's, and ultimately the DNR's, decision on wolf management, including whether to hunt wolves or not.
"We know on the committee no matter how much time we spend on wolves or what the revised wolf management plan ultimately says, Walz is going to do what he wants about wolf hunting," one committee member told me.
If Walz does act unilaterally on wolf hunting, knowing it could doom his re-election chances, he will likely play his hand far from public view, as he was rumored to do when delivering a controversial September teal-hunting season to his southern Minnesota buddies.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the state, far from these madding political shenanigans, some of the world's best wolf, deer and moose researchers and managers stand prepared to do what's best for these animals, individually and in aggregate.
Years in decline in Minnesota, to survive long-term in this state they likely will need some sort of wolf culling in the animals' overlapping territories. Beset seasonally by winter ticks, brainworm and liver flukes, adult moose are also subject to significant wolf predation.
Worse, only about 35% of Minnesota moose calves born annually live to 1 year of age. Fully 84% of Minnesota moose calves that die before their first year are lost to predators, and 77% of these losses are by wolves.
Deer are also a big player in wolf country.
In some parts of the northeast, whitetails are perhaps too abundant, given their intermediary role in the transfer of brain worm to moose. In other parts of the same region, their numbers are too low to sustain long-standing hunting traditions, in part due to habitat variances but in part due to wolves, with occasional severe winters thrown in as wild cards.
American Indians respected wolves for their cunning, hunting ability and organization in packs, or families. Lessons can be learned here, and should be, because reverence for wildlife and their habitats isn't exactly a priority for most folks these days.
But other opinions about modern wolf management should count, too, especially those buttressed by science, the flouting of which, as a French proverb suggests, should be a warning for a king.